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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 Apr 2018

Vol. 257 No. 4

Declaration of Independence Day Bill 2017: Committee Stage

I welcome the Minister of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, to the House.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Section 1 of the Bill deals with the various definitions contained within the Bill. Ar dtús cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta, agus Gaeltachta, an Teachta Madigan, as a bheith anseo inniu. Tá sé in am anois comóradh a dhéanamh ar chruinniú an Chéad Dáil. I believe it is now time to commemorate the Declaration of Independence and the meeting of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919. As I said, section 1 deals with the definitions used in the Bill. First, as per this section, "Declaration of Independence" means the formal Declaration of Independence issued by the Members of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919. Second, this section refers to the "First Dáil", which means the meeting in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin on 21 January 1919, at which Dáil Éireann was constituted and asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for the country.

Before I address section 1, I would like to note that the centenary of the convening of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919 will be one of the key historical events to be marked by the State in 2019. This event will be marked by both the State and the Houses of the Oireachtas itself.

In relation to the Bill, I know there was cross party support for it when it was considered on Second Stage on 5 July 2017. I will not be moving any amendments on Committee Stage but my Department will be considering textual amendments for Report Stage. For example, this section on definitions includes a definition of the Minister, but there is no reference in the body of the Bill to the Minister, or the functions that he or she might carry out. My Department will consider these drafting matters in advance of Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

Section 2 of the Bill specifies that 21 January will be known as Declaration of Independence Day, and that it will be celebrated annually, irrespective of the day on which it falls. This is an important aspect of the Bill because if we are to give the recognition that these events rightly deserve, we need there to be a consistent date in the calendar. It would be up to individuals, organisations, State bodies, community groups, or schools to commemorate the Bill in the manner best suited to their individual circumstances.

The incredible work carried out in 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising is a template for how major events such as this can be remembered. In 2016, over 4,000 primary and secondary schools, along with third level colleges, participated in a hugely successful Proclamation Day. There was a combination of art, music, drama, song and poetry to commemorate the momentous events of 1916. The 1916 centenary celebrations helped to create awareness about the events of 1916 and the impact that it had on our country. A new generation of Irish people have been introduced to the story of 1916.

As I said previously, this Bill is another step on the journey and it recognises the truly historic meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence. Section 2 does not propose to make the day a public holiday, as is understood under the Holidays (Employees) Act 1973. This is something that the previous Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, spoke about in her contribution in July 2017 on this Bill.

Certainly the date 21 January 1919 was very much a pivotal day in modern Irish history. I thank Senator Swanick for his work on this Bill. As we approach the centenary of this important event, it is fitting that we recognise the date of 21 January as Declaration of Independence Day.

It is also positive because the public holiday would not have an economic impact but would allow us to properly commemorate the sitting of the First Dáil.

This Bill makes an important proposal because this would not just be an act of remembrance and celebration but also would be a reminder of the work, promise and vision yet to be fulfilled. The Declaration of Independence and the democratic programme of the First Dáil are northern stars or beacons of what we as a society, and those of us involved in political activism and life should aspire to achieve, namely, the right to a home, to decent healthcare, the right of the State to own its natural resources for the common wealth, well-being and prosperity of its citizens. These are timely and important reminders that should be more prominent. Through Senator Swanick's work on this Bill, they can be a deeper reminder and can impel Members as they move forward with the political responsibility they are privileged to hold.

It would be good as part of the centenary celebrations to put a copy of the Declaration of Independence and of the democratic programme up in this House as a visible reminder, celebration and commemoration. Pieces of art have recently been installed in this building, which is welcome. These significant historic documents are also worthy of a place in the course of those celebrations. I commend the proposers of the Bill, support its passage and look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

I thank the Senators for their contributions. Section 2 is the substantive section and while my predecessor indicated on Second Stage that the Government is not opposing the Bill, it is important to note that several annual events are already fixed in the official commemorative calendar, including the Easter Sunday commemoration at the GPO in remembrance of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom during Easter week of 1916 which is recognised as the seminal moment on our journey towards self-determination and independence. There also is the commemoration of the 1916 Rising at Arbour Hill on the first Wednesday that falls between 3 and 12 May, as well as the July national day of commemoration in remembrance of all Irish men and women who died in wars or on service with the United Nations.

The convening of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919 is one of the key historical events that will be remembered by the State in 2019. This will be the subject of a State commemoration next year, together with a major programme of events being organised by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I note that section 2 provides for commemoration by the State of 21 January each year as the "Declaration of Independence Day" but does not set out the form of any such commemoration or expressly state that a Minister of the Government should be responsible for the commemoration and this is something I would like to examine in advance of Report Stage. I might make amendments on that Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Section 3 is a standard section providing the Short Title and commencement provisions. It is very important that the commencement element of this Bill is as follows: "This Act shall come into operation on the date of its passing." The 100th anniversary of the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence is less than one year away and therefore we need to act quickly on it.

I will consider tabling amendments to section 3, if necessary, on Report Stage. The reference to the Bill coming into effect on passing is inaccurate, the correct term should be "upon enactment" which is effected by the signature of the President. This can be corrected on Report Stage.

I have no issues with the Long Title of the Bill, subject to legal review which the Department will undertake before Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Title be the Title to the Bill."

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire, Teachta Madigan, agus gach Seanadóir a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. I was heartened last July during the Second Stage debate when the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys stated:

The convening of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919 will be one of the key historical events to be marked by the State in 2019. ... The Bill before us proposes that a formal State recognition of the Declaration of Independence shall be made, with the designation of 21 January each year as "Declaration of Independence Day". I am of the view that an event to mark this momentous occasion in our history is appropriate.

Mar fhocal scoir, gabhaim buíochas ó chroí le gach duine a thug tacaíocht don Bhille seo. Fuair mé an tacaíocht don Bhille ó cheannaire Fhianna Fáil, Teachta Micheál Martin, agus ón iarSheanadóir, Teachta Darragh O'Brien. The meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence on 21 January 1919 deserve to be recognised appropriately. This legislation is an important step in that direction and I am humbled that it has now passed another significant legislative milestone moving towards its enactment.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take the next Stage?

Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 24 April 2018.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 April 2018.